Significant Other review: a scary kind of love

Forests can be scary. Love can be even scarier. Combine the two and throw in a few wild twists for good measure, and you get Significant Other, a uniquely terrifying thriller about a couple whose romantic hike in the woods takes an unexpected turn when they begin to suspect they might not be alone in the wilds.

Written and directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, Significant Other casts Maika Monroe (It Follows) and Jake Lacy (The White Lotus) as Ruth and Harry, respectively, a young couple who head off into the forests of the Pacific Northwest for some hiking and camping. Harry intends to propose to Ruth, but the pair’s adventure takes a deadly turn when they discover something sinister in the woods.

Maika Monroe and Jake Lacy wander through a forst in a promotional image from Significant Other.

Relatively speaking, Significant Other is a small film by Hollywood standards, focused almost entirely on its two leads with a story that initially feels fairly straightforward and familiar. Romantic partners frustrated by their respective insecurities, forced to overcome their baggage in order to survive an unexpected threat? Nothing new to see there.

And yet, Significant Other manages to deliver an experience that’s quite a bit bigger and more complicated than that, thanks to its uniquely gorgeous setting, some clever narrative twists, and excellent performances by its two leads.

Significant Other is at its best when it’s keeping you guessing, and much of the film unfolds in a tension-feeding uncertainty about the nature of the threat posed to Ruth and Harry. Monroe in particular walks a fine line throughout much of the film’s first two acts, pushing things forward while never giving too much away, even as the action picks up and the pieces start falling into place around her. She delivered a standout performance as the lead in one of the best horror films of the last decade, It Follows, and Significant Other offers a reminder of how much she brings to quieter, more subtle horror films like this one.

Maika Monroe stares at the camera while lying down.

Lacy also delivers a fine performance as Ruth’s outdoorsy, thoroughly enamored boyfriend, but has no trouble whatsoever shifting his performance into a different gear when things start getting weird in the forest.

To that end, Berk and Olsen do an excellent job of pacing the film’s big revelations and doling out just enough information to keep things compelling throughout. Monroe and Lacy are superb at maintaining the ambiguity of their predicament at all times, but when the curtain is finally pulled away, the filmmaking duo delivers on the film’s big secrets in a rewarding, cleverly orchestrated third act.

Given the film’s small cast and relationship-driven drama, the story in Significant Other could have easily been presented as a narrowly focused thriller, but the forest setting of the film adds another, fascinating dimension to Ruth and Harry’s experience. They’re alone in some of the most beautiful, untouched woods in North America, which can be both terrifyingly claustrophobic or breathtakingly scenic, depending on your perspective. Significant Other makes great use of the dichotomy in its setting to swing the tone from one of gloriously freeing, wide-open spectacle to oppressive, paralyzing terror around the characters as the story demands.

Maika Monroe touchs a tree in th forest in a scene from Significant Other.

A satisfying, efficient thriller with plenty of surprises in store for audiences, Significant Other is just the sort of quietly terrifying film that might not get the kind of attention (or promotion) bigger-budget productions receive, but is likely to generate plenty of word-of-mouth buzz as audiences discover it in one way or another. Monroe and Lacy carry the film — and its narrative twists — well, while Berk and Olsen thread the needle expertly when it comes to balancing what’s known, what isn’t, and the steady drip that transforms the latter into the former. Significant Other rewards patient audiences and the payoff is worth the wait.

Directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, Significant Other premieres October 7 on Paramount+ streaming service.

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